Posing as senior scientist, she stayed inside high-security establishment for 2 days
A 40-year-old woman, suspected to be suffering from depression, breached the high-security ISRO campus on old Airport Road here, posing as a senior scientist, and stayed in a guesthouse there for two days.
Despite the Central Industrial Security Force enforcing multiple security checks for visitors, Buela M. Sam hoodwinked everyone and enjoyed ISRO hospitality for two days before being found out, police said.
It was when she tried to venture into another ISRO campus at Yelahanka here on Saturday that she was caught. When CISF guards stopped her at the entrance, Ms. Sam told them she was a senior ISRO scientist and had come to attend a seminar.
Growing suspicious, the security officials cross-checked with the higher-ups and found out that there was no seminar. On further scrutiny, her ID was discovered to be fake. She was then handed over to the JB Nagar police.
The police were baffled that Ms. Sam managed to stay at the ISRO guesthouse for two days. “It was a serious lapse as the security personnel needed to have checked her background with the department before allowing her to stay,” said a police officer.
According to the police, Ms. Sam stays with her parents in Ahmedabad and is married to Alex Thomas, a high schoolteacher from Kollam, Kerala. A B.Com graduate with a diploma in pharmacy, she is unemployed and is being treated for depression.
She used to visit her husband in Kollam and go missing before returning to Ahmedabad after a few days. As this habit had become frequent, her family members stopped bothering and did not report her disappearances to the police. This time round, she had been missing for 10 days.
Intelligence Bureau officials, who are questioning Ms. Sam, are checking what she was doing on the campus during her stay. They are looking at how she got an ID card.
A team of the Bangalore police has gone to Kollam to question a person who allegedly got the ID card done.
City Police Commissioner Jyoti Prakash Mirji said Ms. Sam had been booked under Sections 171 (forging the identity of a public servant with fraudulent intention), 448 (trespass), 471 (forgery), and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code.
With hindsight, two staffers of The Hindu who were on an assignment at the ISRO headquarters on Friday evening recalled seeing a woman in jeans and T-shirt being quizzed about an unsuitable ID at the security point. When they left more than two hours later, she was still there, seated next to gun-toting security personnel.
The ISRO did not make any official statement. Some officials, however, were one in saying the breach was a wake-up call to the heavily secured strategic establishment. Their reactions and accounts were mixed.
From accounts pieced together, the intruder got into the ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) guesthouse on September 19 when it had vacancies. The next day, when a Bharat bandh was observed, or on September 21, she carpooled with a few others and travelled to Antariksh Bhavan, headquarters of the Department of Space, some 20 km away, on New BEL Road. There she tried to meet three people and apparently had their exact names and designations.
At Antariksh Bhavan, she asked for official X by name but a puzzled X said (s) he did not know her. This was repeated with official Y. The third person must have blown the whistle.
Another senior official said cases of such laxity occur at similar establishments but did not get out. Requesting not to be named, one of them said it was hard to discount that there was no ulterior motive; that it might not “have been a recce for a bigger thing considering the times that we live in.”